In the traditional ceremony for the opening of the Holy Door at the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome, the Holy Father struck the sealed door three times with a small silver hammer. Having been walled shut since the conclusion of the previous Holy Year, the masonry was then removed in one go, by means of an elaborate pulley system, before the door frame itself was sprinkled with lustral water. Only then would the pilgrims, led by the Holy Father, pass through the door and into the Basilica Church, often on their knees and kissing the door on the way.
This rather splendid sight, replaced in more recent times by a simpler affair, abounded in scriptural and theological symbolism. In the Book of Numbers, we hear how the People of Israel at Kadesh, suffering for lack of water to drink, complained to Moses and Aaron, crying out, “Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here?” (20: 4). We will recall that, in reply, the Lord instructed Moses to take his staff and strike a rock from which, “Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank” (20: 11). Indeed, this episode is of such significance that the Church recalls it every morning in the Sacred Liturgy. The words of the Venite proclaim: “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts: as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness; When your fathers tempted me: proved me, and saw my works” (Ps. 95).
What (we might ask) does this all of this have to do with Our Blessed Lady, whose patronage of the Americas under title Our Lady of Guadalupe we celebrate on this feast? In the Litany of Loretto we hear the title Porta Cæli (Gate of Heaven) attributed to the Blessed Virgin. She is the means by which we come to the Promised Land which is the kingdom of her beloved Son. In a very particular sense, Our Lady is the portal by which Christ entered the world and thus, by whom, we might enter heaven. As the mediatrix through which Christ makes his grace available to the world, she is the gate or door—even the Holy Door—whom we acknowledge and venerate in order that we might come to Christ. And as the catechism teaches, this “in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power” (CCC 970).
My own introduction to devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe has been instructive in this regard. Enthroned above a small altar in the baptistry of the church of Saint Patrick, Soho Square, in central London (where I was ordained a priest), a relic-image of Our Lady of Guadalupe presides over the rites of baptism of children and adults alike. These people, who come to the rock of the Church to seek the water of refreshment and life that is Christ’s grace given us in baptism, are presented with the one through whom Christ came into the world. She who is full of grace is the perfect sign of the effects of Holy Baptism; configuration with and conformation to Christ, as the means for sanctification and salvation. In the midst of the season of Advent, as we turn ourselves to the coming of Christ, the Radiant Dawn whose light breaks upon the darkness of our fallen world, our celebration of the life and fidelity of Our Blessed Mother—who to Saint Juan Diego offered herself as our “merciful Mother”—recalls that it is only through her that we come to Christ; that we come to the eternal bliss offered by him to us.
We might also recall that Our Lady of Guadalupe is honoured for her special patronage of the unborn. She who kept the Christ Child safe and delivered him into the world, now protects God’s most vulnerable, leading our prayers for their safe birth and for their defence from the many evils that threaten life from the moment of conception. That same physical life of which she is patron, though, is intimately linked with the spiritual birth of baptism—a birth which, in this Holy Year, we commemorate and renew within ourselves by passing through the Holy Door, turning our backs on the world in the process, and entering (in a ritual way) the sanctuary and place where God himself dwells.
At the threshold of this Jubilee Year, then, we come to knock at the door that is Our Lady, the Virgin of Guadalupe, to ask her to lead us to her Son, that we may be refreshed by a renewal of our baptismal grace—that what has become dormant may be stirred up in us, as the Advent collects remind us. By this we come once more to the fullness of life that is found uniquely in the person of Christ, in his Holy Catholic Church, and pass from this fleeting world to the eternal safety and surety of the world to come where, with Our Lady of Guadalupe, Saint Juan Diego, and all the saints, we may rest from our labours and join the eternal worship which, here and now, we come to glimpse.